Griffin puts an exclamation point on Pistons preseason with 29-point explosion
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EAST LANSING – If Dwane Casey gets a few better nights of sleep between now and the regular-season opener next week, he probably has Blake Griffin to thank.
Griffin made a conscious decision to be more assertive in the preseason finale Friday night and the results echoed across the Michigan State campus. He powered through Cleveland’s defense for three first-half dunks, stepped outside to drain 3 of 4 3-point shots, ran the floor hard and dished out five of his team’s 31 assists to power a 129-110 rout of the Cavaliers.
Griffin played 26 minutes and said the training staff had allotted him a few more than that. But Casey had seen enough by late in the third quarter, pulling Griffin then rather than risking a fluke injury in garbage time of the preseason.
“He was dominant,” Reggie Jackson said. “He was definitely dominant today.”
“I had more minutes tonight. Didn’t end up playing them,” Griffin said, “but it was my goal to be a little bit more aggressive.”
Jackson, who like Griffin played only in the final three preseason games, also had his best run, finishing with 14 points, five assists and only one turnover in 25 minutes. He’s not as close to peak form as Griffin, but his arrow is headed up.
“His confidence was great,” Griffin said of Jackson. “He shot the ball well, attacked well. He’s so good in the pick and roll, very patient. It’s nice to get him out there for extended minutes and really get a good feel for him.”
Casey’s rotation – until emptying the bench late – consisted of 10 players but only three real big men: Andre Drummond – himself active and impressive with 21 points and 15 rebounds in 35 minutes – Griffin and Zaza Pachulia, who played less than 10 minutes.
The new wrinkle was the lineups Casey deployed to start the second and fourth quarters, highlighted by playing Jackson and Ish Smith in tandem. Smith left an impression on the game with 16 points and nine assists as one of three Pistons – Jackson and Langston Galloway the others – to make four 3-point shots on a night the Pistons converted 21 of 45.
“We’ll look at it. All hands on deck,” Casey said of the possibility of the two-point-guard lineup becoming a staple. “I don’t want to put myself in a corner and say that’s what we’re going to do, but that lineup was pretty good. I think that’s when we took off when we had those two ballhandlers in there.”
In the second quarter, Casey used Luke Kennard – who scored 10 points in just six first-half minutes, another encouraging showing from a player who was limited by injury over the off-season – and Galloway in the lineup with Smith and Jackson, effectively a four-guard lineup around Pachulia. In the fourth, it was Stanley Johnson replacing Kennard with that unit as the Pistons stretched a five-point lead to 18 in the first four minutes.
Casey had seen clear evidence of his offense taking hold in training camp practices, but games had been a slog until the finale. The Pistons came into the game averaging less than 100 points and shooting less than 30 percent from the 3-point arc before Friday’s eruption.
“I look at a lot of things other than win or loss in the exhibition, but I liked the vibe, the play, more so than just the W,” Casey said. “The way we’re kind of catching on to the offensive philosophy. Defensively, we did a better job and even if we had lost I still like the way we played.”
So did Griffin.
“It’s always nice to go into the regular season on the right foot,” he said. “It’s nice to see the ball go through and get a win.”